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The Story of Witham

 

The original Saxon village of Witham was half a mile away from Newland Street at what we now call Chipping Hill. The development of Newland Street, on the Roman Colchester road, came with the Knights Templar, an order of 'monks in arms'. In 1147 they were granted the Royal Manor of Witham, the income from which was to help pay for their operations in the Holy Land.

 

In 1212 King John granted the Knights Templar a charter for a weekly market in a place called 'La Newe Lande' in the parish of Witham. This was the start of what we now know as Newland Street, and the original 'half acre' plots laid out at that time are still identifiable today marking the modern property boundaries.

The first traders were tailors, bakers, shoemakers, drapers and salters. The town continued to grow long after the Knights Templar were suppressed in 1312, and by the 16th and 17th centuries woollen clothmaking became important, cloth being exported to Portugal and Spain.

 

In the 18th century Witham became a fashionable town. It was conveniently placed just one day's coach journey from London, providing accommodation for the first overnight stop on journeys to many destinations including Ipswich, Norwich and Harwich with stabling for many horses. For a while it enjoyed renown as a spa, based on the allegedly special quality of a spring near the Faulkbourne Road on the edge of the town, 'Assemblies' were held at the spa house and in one or other of the principal inns. In this period many new brick buildings of good design were constructed and older buildings were given a new brick front, even though the timber-framed structure was retained behind the façade

 

The middle of the 19th century brought the railway and the steep decline of the coaching trade. This together with an agricultural depression resulted in little development from then until after the Second World War, although Witham remained busy with a good variety of shops and some industries.

 

It was in 1964 that a decision was taken to proceed with the development of Witham - to make it a 'London overspill town'. At that time Witham was still a small semi-rural town of which the population had grown very slowly to around 10,000. The plan was to add another 15,000 over the next 10 years or so making a total of some 25,000. So it was that in August 1966 the first of the Londoners arrived in Witham as part of the planned expansion. The town has continued to grow and although there are thriving industrial estates providing employment, many of the population now use the railway to commute to London.

 

Witham has therefore developed from a village away from the main road, to a market town on a busy arterial road with a large number of residents commuting to London. We hope this trail will help you see how the town has retained its character throughout its development, and how the origins of the medieval market and Georgian spa town can still be seen today.

Text and Photographs: John Palombi and Cyril Taylor unless otherwise accredited. Illustrations: John Finch and Julie & John Denney. Translations: Google.com. Original Concept: Joy Vaughan, Witham Town Centre Strategy Group. Narration: John Rhodes
 

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